The government has finally published its flagship levelling up white paper. Below is a summary of FE Week’s highlights and a review of how to use LMS to secure funding for your organisation. We focus our review on four key areas of the suggested reform:

  • The ‘elite’ new sixth forms 
  • The skills mission 
  • UK Shared Prosperity Fund 
  • Future skills unit and winding down of skills and productivity board 

The ‘elite’ new sixth forms 

New 16 to 19 free schools will be opened by the Department for Education to help “ensure that talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to a college, school sixth form or 16-19 academy, with a track record of progress on to leading universities”. The white paper contains little additional detail on what was trailed in some of the 55 education investment areas (EIAs). These areas have been selected as the focus for school’s performance interventions. While all areas could apply for one of these new sixth forms, the EIAs will be prioritised.  

EIAs, having been identified as areas needing investment and often demonstrating lower than average pass rates. They could use the injection of funding to invest in numerous areas including suitable EdTech either for established or new elite six forms. LMS systems, which have been shown to support areas that suffer from lower than average pass rates, could have wide reaching effects on EPA pass rates when coupled with additional funding. 

The white paper provides no evidence on the need or demand for new institutions in the EIAs. However, the white paper is clear that these new free schools will be focussed explicitly on academic education and progression to “leading” universities. The highly selective Harris Westminster Sixth Form is used as an example. The white paper also does not set out how much funding has been set aside to open these new institutions. 

Alongside these new free schools, the white paper outlines plans to open eight new 16 to 19 maths schools, at least one in each English region. They will be in Cambridge, Durham, Imperial College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Surrey, West Midlands and another one in the East of England. This would be in addition to the three already operating in Exeter, Liverpool and Kings College London. 

The skills mission 

One of the government’s twelve levelling up “missions” is to increase the number of adults in training by 200,000 more people every year between now and 2030. Today’s white paper shines a little more light on how this mission will be measured. We now know that the headline measure will be 19+ FE and skills achievements but excluding community learning. 

In 2018/19, the year used as the government’s baseline for this skills target, there were 1,045,100 achievements. For comparison, in 2020/21 that figure was just 797,100. Those are apprenticeship starts and achievements per 1,000, percentage of 16- to 64-year-olds with qualifications at level 3+ and 19+ further education and skills participation. 

Fifty local authority areas have been identified as “low skilled” and have a special target of 80,000 extra FE and skills achievements within the 200,000 figure. They’ve been identified as the bottom third of local authorities with the lowest proportion of 16- to 64-year-olds qualified at level 3 or above. Sandwell has the lowest proportion, 36.9 per cent and Medway has the highest, 53.3 per cent, within this grouping. Three areas have been selected as new “pathfinder areas” where the intention is for local employment and skills services will be more closely aligned. Blackpool, Walsall and Barking and Dagenham have been chosen because both unemployment and vacancies are high. 

UK Shared Prosperity Fund 

UK Shared Prosperity Fund gets underway next year. The white paper said that the £2.6bn UK Shared Prosperity Fund will be used to invest in three main areas, including: improving communities and place, people and skills, and supporting local business. Pre-launch guidance for the fund, said it will focus on communities and place and local business interventions in 2022-23 and 2023-24. 

Further investment into people and skills will follow from 2024-25, when the funding pot reaches its full extent. As part of the investment into people and skills, the government will boost core skills and support adults to progress in work. They will also reduce levels of economic inactivity and move those furthest from the labour market closer to employment. 

To access their allocation, each place (via local government) will be asked to set out measurable outcomes they are looking to deliver, and what interventions they are choosing to prioritise in an investment plan.  Learner Management Systems would play a key role here for those looking to provide measurable, tangible outcomes which could be produced by suggested investments.  

Future skills unit and winding down of skills and productivity board 

The Department for Education is setting up a new “Unit for Future Skills” which will bring together skills data and information held across government.  This data will be used across central and local government and will be accessible to providers and the general public.  “The unit will aim to improve the quality of data available within and outside [the] UK government in the short-term to strengthen the quality of local plans and provision, and their alignment with labour market need, as well as enable the updating of apprenticeship standards, qualifications, and accountability measures,” the white paper said.  At Smart Apprentices we are already focusing on the use DfE data to create performance-based dashboards and hope to find alternative ways to continue to leverage this data.